From Musa Sebirumbi to Eric Sakwa, history is very cruel

Tuesday April 28 2020

In a way, the arrest last week of Jinja Resident District Commissioner, Eric Sakwa, triggered a sense of dé jà vu. It is alleged that while enforcing, with gusto, the directives of the President intended to curb the spread of coronavirus, the over enthusiastic Sakwa commandeered others to commit manslaughter, theft and destruction of property.

Ironically, those directive, especially the ones on social distancing, were totally disregarded when hordes of people (both for and against) Sakwa, gathered at court as he was being remanded. A gentleman in an Islamic tunic and taqiyah cap (hat) laid hands on him to bless him. Sakwa did not protest.

In NRM, Sakwa is a Johnny-come-lately, having originally been a youthful UPC firebrand who reserved his choicest pejorative for Museveni and NRM. He tried his luck at elective politics, burnt his fingers, went off the scene, and then bounced back as Jinja RDC.

An RDC is the President’s representative in a district. To understand how Sakwa, the erstwhile vocal Museveni critic, ended up being a ruthless enforcer of his directives, you have to look back in the history of Uganda and UPC where Sakwa was nurtured.

During the second regime of Apolo Milton Obote (1980-1985) with NRA in the tall grasses of Luweero, UPC launched a crackdown especially in Luweero where the locals were assisting the rebels.

UPC chairmen were the enforcers. One who stood out was a one Hajj Musa Sebirumbi. He, like Sakwa, would move with armed men to ensure people kept within the confines of the law and other directives. He never made an effort to conceal his activities and he became infamous for his high handedness. Some people were maimed and others died in the process.


When NRM came to power, he was convicted of murder and sent to the gallows on April 27, 1999, after spending 10 years on death row.

Obote and his regime did not sell ever in Buganda since he ordered the May 24, 1966 attack on Lubiri (palace) in Mengo, deposed Kabaka Edward Mutesa who later died in exile in London on November 21, 1969. Most Baganda would not touch anything UPC even with a long stick.

So how did the Baganda like Sebirumbi (and Night Kulabako) become the faces of Obote’s brutality in Buganda against their fellow Baganda?

In Uganda, regimes are associated with regions where the president comes from. Many of the top jobs, good roads, piped water and opportunities tend to ‘go home.’ Others get the left overs. Many times people outside of the president’s region count themselves very lucky when given a job.

At times to get there, one – especially those who have fallen down – may have to grasp at any available boot strings to lift themselves up. They lick the boots too. When they settle, they show gratitude and have to prove that they were the right choice. So they become more Christ than Jesus in trying to spread the hold of the kingdom of their new master.

In John 18:10, we are told of Simon Peter, the disciple who tried to stop the arrest of Jesus. He drew a sword and cut off the ear of Malchus. Jesus reprimanded him. He said those persecuting him were helping him to fulfil the word of God. Like Jesus, Museveni called those who are enforcing regulations by beating people ‘pigs.’

The Sebirumbis and Sakwas who view themselves as ‘outsiders’ in this business of regional politics do a lot of donkey work in order to look and stay in. At times they make their own dangerous job description.

It makes those they left behind feeling angry, so the ‘traitor’ or Johnny-come-lately strives even harder for their new master. He becomes a dependant who has burnt his bridges. Yet by being fickle, they destroy themselves of their own volition. It is only a matter of time that they will hang themselves with the very power that they were given.

Others admire them and strive to copy their example by seeing the light instead of ‘starving in the Opposition.’ In effect this depletes and weakens the opposition.

But history also tells us another intriguing thing that such people like the Sakwa should ponder. At the time of the fall of the Obote regime, most of the people from his nationality got wind of the inner happenings and fall-outs. (They were like the rich people on the deck of the movie The Titanic who jumped onto the rescue boats while the pianist and band was left on-board as the ship sunk).

Obote and ‘his people’ fled to exile and left the over-exposed Sebirumbis and the Chris Rwakasisis in the country to face the full wrath of the law. While they were busy working for the perpetuation of Obote, they forgot to take care of themselves and their safety. They believed Obote, who had become their protector, was infallible.

History is very cruel. It not only repeats itself but eludes those it should be helping.

Mr Sengoba is a commentator on political and social issues. Twitter @nsengoba